Israel defence minister may gain ‘totalitarian’-style powers

Israel’s defence minister may acquire new powers that critics describe as “draconian”, including the ability to impose a wide range of restrictions on citizens.

According to yesterday’s editorial in Haaretz, a Knesset committee has postponed to an undetermined future date a vote on an amendment to the law regulating emergency measures.

The paper states that “the amendment will give the defence minister the authority to issue administrative detention orders or other restrictions, while limiting the oversight of the Attorney General or the courts over these orders.”

The new bill is part of efforts to place measures into the law books that have, until now, been implemented using emergency measures from the British Mandate period.

Last year, the Knesset passed an “anti-terrorism” law, but “several clauses dealing with administrative detention and restraining orders were excluded”. Now the Knesset committee wants to plug the gaps and expand the authority of the defence minister.

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Haaretz notes that the proposed powers, including administrative detentions and restraining orders, constitute the imposition of “sanctions without going through court proceedings”.

In recent times, “the use of such detentions has expanded in Israel, directed particularly against Palestinians in the West Bank, but also against Israeli citizens, Jews and Arabs”.

Now, however, “the government is taking a further step, asking for far-reaching authority while limiting legal oversight over these procedures”.

The bill will allow the defence minister to “sign an order forbidding a person to leave the country, to leave a specific area, to keep certain objects or talk to certain people, or even work at some jobs”. The bill also “includes a general amorphous clause, which allows the minister to impose any kind of limitation on any citizen if there is a ‘reasonable possibility’ that he or she may harm state security”. The Haaretz editorial describes these “draconian measures” as “befitting a totalitarian regime, not a democratic state”.

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